The Minnesota Twins fired manager Ron Gardenhire on Monday, ending a 13-season tenure that included at least 92 losses in each of the last four years.
The move was made with one season left on Gardenhire's contract, ending the second-longest active tenure in the major leagues behind Mike Scioscia of the Angels. The Twins announced the firing at an afternoon news conference with Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan.
Gardenhire played an integral role in the franchise's renaissance, guiding the Twins to their first of six American League Central division titles in 2002 in his first year on the job. But Gardenhire's teams only got out of the first round once, and his postseason record was 6-21 with the last win coming in 2004.
The Twins have long been the model of stability in not only baseball but major professional sports, with only two managers over the last 28 years and two general managers over the last 20 seasons.
But all the losing of late became too much to overcome. Over the last four years, the Twins went 78-148 from Aug. 1 on for an abysmal .345 winning percentage.
This year, Gardenhire became just the fourth manager in the game's history to preside over at least four straight 90-loss seasons with the same team, joining Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics (nine), Zach Taylor of the St. Louis Browns (four) and his predecessor with the Twins, Tom Kelly (four). Kelly returned for one more season after his streak, and he retired after an 85-77 finish in 2001.
In an era when job security for managers is seemingly measured in months, Gardenhire's longevity has been truly unique. The outspoken and fiery Gardenhire quickly became one of the faces of the franchise, as synonymous with the Twins as the interlocking T and C on their caps. He took over for the revered Kelly, who won two World Series championships, just as the organization was starting to regain its footing after years of bad baseball.
Gardenhire clashed with some players over the years, but there was expectation and hope among the players that he would return.
"Sometimes you go out and you don't play as well as you would've liked, but it's not always the staff's fault when it comes to those sorts of things," starting pitcher Phil Hughes said. "We have to be better. That's the bottom line."
Gardenhire joined the organization in 1987 and was added to Kelly's staff in 1991. His record as Twins manager was 1,068-1,039. He won the American League Manager of the Year award in 2010, the last time the Twins not only made the playoffs but had a winning record.
"As good as it gets in my opinion. Comes to the park ready to win each and every day. Kind of a players' manager," second baseman Brian Dozier said last week. "Always in good spirits. He knows the game better than anybody I've been around. I 100 percent want him back."
The contracts of Gardenhire's coaches were expiring, but some of them could be brought back. Bench coach Paul Molitor is sure to be considered as Gardenhire's replacement, but Ryan's search will spread outside the organization, too.
Ryan gave Gardenhire a two-year contract after last season, blaming himself for the roster he assembled. But this winter, the Twins spent big on Hughes and fellow right-hander Ricky Nolasco in an attempt to upgrade the rotation. Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki was added, too, and made the All-Star team. But despite the emergence of prospects Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas, the Twins simply didn't make enough progress to avoid a shake-up.
Nolasco's rough debut season and Joe Mauer's down year in the switch to first base were major disappointments, but bringing Gardenhire back for another year would not have gone over well with an increasingly frustrated fan base. Attendance in Target Field's fifth year was the lowest for the Twins since 2004.